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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

First Day Jitters and Survival

I can recall this feeling like it was yesterday─because it was.

March 29, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

For most of my readers, you might wonder how a crusty curmudgeon of a chief can relate to recruit issues. You might think, How could he know what it is like to be the new guy on the block? Well, I did the other day.

Yes, I switched jobs and changed departments recently, so I know the first-day orientation drill first hand.

Butterflies and Names

Whoever created the analogy of butterflies in your stomach to represent the uncertainties of the first day missed the mark. Recalling my rookie days─now having had a few─the feeling to me is more like buzzards circling in your gut. First day or first shift, take it easy on anything new. This is not the day to try out that new energy drink packed full of vitamins and set-your-hair-on-fire energy elixirs. Stick to what you know works for you; the last thing you need is a worrisome stomach or chemical-induced jitters.

Speaking of sticking to what you know, don't try to be anything but yourself. You are about to learn the culture of the department and "the way it is done around here." I know the academy told you to do things the academy way. However, your FTO and your future supervisors will direct you to the departmental way. You need to change and adapt, because they won't.

When you meet the new staff, remember that they are the incumbents, the veterans; respect them. I had a rookie once who wanted to be the pal of everyone. He wanted to be so friendly and call all by their first names or departmental nicknames. NO. You refer to all by their rank or position. Even the secretaries and staff should be called by titles or Mr. or Mrs. Ignoring this rule, this young man sauntered up to a deputy chief and called him by his first name in front of other staff. The Major, who nearly became apoplectic over this total lack of decorum, then dressed the officer down and sent him packing. Remember this cautionary tale and wait for your seniors to tell you how to refer to them and in what settings.

Learning the Lay of the Land

While you are moving about, you must learn that there are people who get things accomplished and others who don't. The finding out of who really runs each shop or section is important.

I recall one place in my career where there was a lieutenant in charge of a section within the support services division. Poor lad was clueless. Officers would go by him, wave, speak, and he was happy. But it was his civilian staff that got things done there. Nobody in their right mind would ask the lieutenant for a pencil; the lady in quartermaster was the go-to person there. You must learn to remember those people who are going to be the helpers and go-to people for you. It never hurts to be respectful and nice to them at all times; they will repay with their service.

One final tip is to learn a new name every day. We are spoiled as police officers, for we have nametags on uniforms, nametags on desks, and so forth. You know you have to deal with a rank in a room and the nametag will give you the opening. But you will need to recall the names someday, so start learning them. Your transition is important to your success; this is just as important as learning the streets. After all, these are your co-workers now; enjoy the day and the rest of the career.

Train hard every day and the rest will take care of itself.

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